… a great mix! Starting June 15, the Tocorime’ Pamatojare, Brazil’s largest sailing ship, will host the kick off of “Following Darwin”, an environmentally focused educational outreach expedition along the coast of Brazil. For five days in June in Rio de Janeiro harbor, school kids, teachers, community leaders, and the public will be welcomed aboard to see and hear about the upcoming voyage of the Tocorime’ Pamatojare, which means “Adventurous Spirit” in Portuguese, to sail to the ports of call of the HMS Beagle. The theme of the expedition is Environmental Protection and Sustainable Development as it relates to the coastal environs of Brazil. These events, exhibits, and public talks coincide with the United Nations Rio +20 Conference on Sustainable Development.

Publicly available astronaut photography taken aboard the International Space Station (ISS) will provide the big view; showing off the beauty of the Brazilian coast while helping to link the ecosystems, marine biology, and oceanography with coastal development. Astronauts such as Mike Barratt add the human exploration perspective, linking the crews of the ISS to the crews of the tall ships and the Beagle’s voyage 180 years ago.

The educational and public outreach events in Brazil are just one example of the growing use of astronaut photography  to teach and learn about life on Earth. The image collections are cataloged and maintained by the Crew Earth Observation ISS payload team at Johnson Space Center and the Astromaterials Research and Explorations Science (ARES) Directorate. Through the Gateway to Astronaut Photography, the public can find collections such as Earth from Space, images from the International Polar Year, or the wildly popular time sequence videos of auroras, city lights, coastal regions, and celestial phenomena.

In September 2009, a team of marine biologists and oceanographers from around South America, the UK, and the US met in Paraty, Brazil for the first educational outreach event aboard the Tocorime’ and in area schools. Organized by the HMS Beagle Project, a UK charity, the event also featured NASA astronaut photography and a live ham-radio call from Mike Barratt on the ISS to the kids of Paraty. The event was a great success with a variety of hands-on marine biology experiences for the kids, including DNA sequencing of marine organisms in Paraty harbor led by a biologist from the Barcode of Life Project. More such events are planned for Following Darwin as it begins to circumnavigate South America beginning in September.

Partners for the Rio+20 events include the host educational institution IASEA (Institutio Para Aprendizagem Social, Emocional e Academica) and the tall-ship Tocorime’, the University of Sao Paolo – Zoology Museum and Oceanographic Institute, the Brazilian Ministry of the Environment and Ministry of Culture, National Geographic-Brazil, the British Council, and the HMS Beagle Project. Once again, NASA’s astronaut photography and science education and outreach programs will play a part.

Astronaut photography also serves as a focal point for Expedition Earth and Beyond. This NASA/JSC/ARES education program is designed to facilitate student-driven, authentic research projects to study the Earth and to compare Earth to other planetary bodies such as the Moon and Mars. Images of Earth acquired by astronauts are the hook for getting students interested and involved in the program.

The future looks bright for all of these partners; greater involvement of NASA public resources from the ISS, a possible circumnavigation of South America on a tall-ship following the voyage of Darwin’s Beagle, and opportunities for thousands of kids to learn about the importance of Earth science, protection of the environment, and sustainable living. Tall-ships, space ships, and kids learning about the Earth; a great mix indeed!

Hope you’ll stay tuned and follow the adventure! We’ll be following the Tocorime’s explorations over the next few weeks – feel free to leave a note here to share with the crew and the students. You can also follow @followdarwin on Twitter for ongoing updates of Dan’s adventures with the expedition.

About Dan

Astromaterials Science Manager

Johnson Space Center

dan.h.garrison@nasa.gov